Saturday, March 31, 2012

Out Like a Lion

March 30, 2012, the last school day of the month, went out like a roaring, rampaging lion in my Composition II class.  Ironically, after yesterday's post, I thought, aaaah, I have teaching figured out.  Apparently, that idealistic arrogance was brought to humbling reality when yesterday I limped along like a first-year teacher (to those teachers who had marvelously smooth, intelligent and poised first years, please don't tell me, at least not until April). My first year of teaching was a thundering storm of natural and unnatural disasters from every possible NSEW direction combination that can ever, has ever or will ever be made, but before my post traumatic stress disordered memory kicks fully into gear, I suppose I should report yesterday's classroom failures--I do this not to torment myself, but provide examples of failure's necessity for improvement.

The day started fine.  I'd say until fifth hour rolled around, the day was a breeze.  But then came the unexpected monsoon during the dry season--chat and snack in Composition II.  I thought chat and snack would be a success.  I had promised to celebrate the end of the position paper unit filled with researching, annotated bibliographies, 12-15 page papers, pages long revision checklists--basically every English teacher's ideal unit of student growth, learning, and achievement--would be a nice transition to the next unit: the proposal to solve a problem.  So I had my 18 quotes from a variety of problem solvers copied and ready to go.  I even patted myself on the back for being a pale shade of green because I saved at least a twig from a tree by only making 25 copies, and to be 100% honest, I even expected student praise for that (I firmly believe in having high expectations so students have to rise to meet them). Anyway,  the plan included students furnishing the snacks and I proudly presenting the main dish:  the chat.  Who can resist discussing great quotes like    "The measure of success is not whether you have a tough problem to deal with, but whether it is the same problem you had last year. (John Foster Dulles, Former Secretary of State) or "Is your cucumber bitter? Throw it away. Are there briars in your path? Turn aside. That is enough. Do not go on and say, 'Why were things of this sort ever brought into the world?'" (Marcus Aurelius).

Students dropped off their snacks before school, and one brought little smokies in barbecue sauce.  The smells made the other classes hungry when they entered the room.  I expected to hear students wonder why I was so mean to them and never allow food in their classes which is why I reminded the freshmen in homeroom that we have birthday treats and the freshmen in class about our "Inner Party" party after we finished reading 1984.  I ignored the sunshine's blatant sign of the most destructive storms that ever hit the classroom causing treacherous ruin to lesson plans and irreparable damage to students' delicate attention spans:  beautiful spring weather on Fridays.

Fifth hour is right before lunch.  The students prepared their buffet.  I was even smart enough to have students hand out the chat sheets. Thoughts of life's pleasantness rolled through my mind just as the summer breeze pushes clouds aside to clear the sky. Then the freeze pops started dripping, the cup of barbecue sauce had to be confiscated so a student would not get paid $5.00 to drink it during class, the glass of Hi-C punch had to be wiped off the floor.  Granted, students did share an example or two about selected quotations, but then food returned to being the lesson plan.  The students were happy and helpful; all was not lost.  Messes happen. Plans change.  I decided how to modify 7th hour's chat and snack to meet the Iowa core. Winston Churchill's wise words  "Success consists of going from failure to failure without loss of enthusiasm" moved me forward with renewed energy.

The bell rang, lunch  was eaten.  I looked forward to the next class being conducted in a discussion-friendly circle of desks.  This time we set up the buffet, I passed out the chat sheet, we discussed for ten minutes.  Full of the confidence I feel when a weather warning times out, I sent the students to the decadently sweet banquet of student-brought cupcakes, ice cream cake, donuts and sugary HI-C.  They came back to our circle.  They ate.  They talked.  They talked.  They talked.  Discussion in the school setting of course means one person talks and everyone else listens.  But they talked without even expecting a response.  They talked. They talked. There was NOOOO listening happening. Sure, I quieted them down, but the same pattern returned.  I refused to cower to this storm; my mind returned to solution mode.

The entire 8th hour class must have skipped lunch because the students were downright angry when I told them we had to chat for twenty minutes before their buffet could be gobbled.  After holding my ground, and sending a student back to his seat when he impulsively rose to cut the rest of his fudge, students halfheartedly followed my directions while saving their glares for me and their attention to the food table which held center stage in front of their eyes.  Finally 2:20 rolled around, and my deep disappointment in the entire Composition II chat and snack failure was written in all of my actions and comments.  The students ate happily, and I admit it, I sulked a little. I visualized dainty tea party and intelligent conversation, not starving students gobbling food while the devastatingly most dangerous temperate spring Friday of any March 30th ever experienced in 2012 beckoned them with its advertisement that this day was not meant for scholarly discussion. But by the end of the period, the mess was cleared, the students were happy. Like the thunderstorm that breaks the humidity, the bell rang releasing the storm of open campus students to their weekend.

The day is done.  March in the classroom is done.  Marcus Aurelius's wise directive to toss away the bitter cucumber is enough to soothe the roaring lion.  As for the stormy setting to this day's events, before I headed to take tickets at the school play a beautiful rainbow filled the sky in a boldness that made me say "thank you" and reminded me to have hope in the future.  Monday is a new day, a new month, a new unit.  Learning shall return to room 67.

Sunday, March 4, 2012

Why Read Shakespeare?


Why Read Shakespeare?

1. Because Shakespeare will challenge you to go beyond your reading comfort zone.
2.  Because you will learn new words and phrases.
3.  Because you will have firsthand expertise at understanding Shakespearean references in songs, movies, and books.
4.  Because you will remember this literature.
5.  Because you will get used to paying attention to punctuation marks, signal words, and clever word usage in order to comprehend the complex sentence structure.
6.  Because you will get used to interpreting figurative language.
7.  Because the themes in Shakespeare's work still abound.
8.  Because you will research the references you do not understand (a.k.a. independent learning)
9.  Because even though you know how the plays end, you will be mesmerized by Shakespeare's telling of the tale.
10.  Because you can be inspired to be a word wizard in your own writings.
11.  Because there's nothing like knowing you had to work hard to comprehend, and you did it.  That kind of confidence comes only from taking on a challenge.